Thoughts on religion – Join the Baptist church – Strange perversion of a scripture promise.

Spring-Summer 1825

It was during these toils in the wilderness that my mind was drawn out from time to time on the things of God and eternity. I felt deeply anxious to be saved from my sins, and to secure an interest in that world “where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”[1] I attended public worship with a society of Baptists who had employed one W. A. Scranton for their minister; he was a scholar from Hamilton Seminary[2] (an institution where young men are educated for the ministry).

I said to my father one day[3] while we were laboring together in the forest: “Father, how is it there is so manifest a difference between the ancient and modern disciples of Jesus Christ and their doctrines? If, for instance, I had lived in the days of the Apostles, and believed in Jesus Christ, and had manifested a wish to become his disciple, Peter or his brethren would have said to me, ‘Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for REMISSION OF SINS, and you SHALL receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’[4] I should then have known definitely and precisely what to do to be saved. Whereas, now we go to the religious minister for instruction, and he tells us we must experience a mysterious, indefinite and undefinable something called religion before we can repent and be baptized acceptably. But, if we inquire how, or by what means we are to come at this experience, he cannot tell us definitely; but will tell us that it is the work of God in the soul; which he will accomplish in his own due time, for his own elect; and that we can do nothing acceptably till this is done. That even our prayers and repentance, and all our good works are sin; so long as this work of God is not done within us.
“Now, father,” said I, “how is this? I believe in Jesus; I wish to serve him and keep his commandments; I love him: He has commanded all men to repent and be baptized, and has promised to remit the sins of all those who obey the gospel ordinances, and to pour out the Holy Spirit upon them. Yet, if I apply to the Presbyterians they will sprinkle some water in my face instead of baptizing me.[5] If I go to the Methodists it is the same.[6] And if I go to the Baptists they will not baptize me for remission of sins, that I may receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; but they will require of me to relate an experience, and to tell of some time and place where I had already experienced that which I am only seeking for, and have not found.[7] This, of course, I cannot do; and, therefore, they will not receive me unto baptism. How, then, can I observe the ordinances of God and keep his commandments?”
To these inquiries my father could give no satisfactory answer; but observed that times and circumstances had changed. With this I was not satisfied, of course; for who had a right to change the ordinances, transgress the law, or break the covenant of the everlasting gospel?[8] Such were my thoughts.
I still continued to ponder upon these things, and to search the Scriptures to learn how to be saved.[9] I found the same principles and practice throughout the history of the Apostles,[10] the Jews,[11] Samaritans,[12] Gentiles,[13] Ephesians,[14] Corinthians,[15] Romans,[16] the Ethiopian eunuch,[17] Saul of Tarsus,[18] the jailer and his household,[19] all were baptized when they believed in Jesus Christ and repented of their sins; and this as an ordinance connected with remission of their sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. What, then, should I do? Where find one who was commissioned from heaven, and would administer salvation to me? I could only go to the Baptists; but I lacked that “experience of religion” which they always required. However, I resolved to try.
I accordingly appeared before them at their monthly meeting, or council, and requested to be baptized; they inquired into my experience; I related to them my firm belief in Christ, and my wish to serve God, without being able to tell them of any particular experience of religion. They finally consulted together; and came to the conclusion that I had been converted, whether I knew it myself or not, and a time was appointed for my baptism-a month or two thence. Here I again realized the difference. In ancient times persons were baptized immediately on profession of their faith; now they were subjected to a delay of weeks or months.
At length the time arrived, and I was baptized by Mr. Scranton, and duly initiated into the Baptist society; being about eighteen years of age.[20] I felt some satisfaction in obeying this one ordinance; but still I was aware that all was not right, – that much was wanting to constitute a Christian, or a Church of Christ.
I endeavored to pray much, and to attend meetings strictly; I also endeavored to keep the commandments of Jesus as well as I could.
Mr. Scranton came to the house where I boarded to preach at a certain time, and I inquired of him what Jesus meant when he said, “these signs shall follow them that believe.”[21] He replied, that it meant these signs should follow the Apostles only.
This did not satisfy me; for it was plain and manifest perversion of common sense and language easy to be understood. It was as much as to say: Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to the Apostles; and the Apostles that believe and are baptized shall be saved; and the Apostles that believe not shall be damned; and these signs shall follow the Apostles that believe. Thus, by logical consistency, confining the whole commission and gospel to the Apostles, with all its benefits, by the same rule that we would confine the promise of the signs following to them.


[1] Note Joseph Smith’s earliest writings of his search for religion: “My mind became seriously [impressed] with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul which led me to searching the scriptures… I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind, the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and abominations, and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind. My mind became exceedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins… and I felt to mourn for my own sins” (Smith, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:5; spelling standardized).

[2] This was the Hamilton Ontario Seminary, located about 185 miles west of Oswego – about a two-day journey by ship on Lake Ontario.

[3] Parley does not make it clear from his record, but it appears that his father often worked with him, helping Parley to eke out an existence in the wilderness.
[4] Acts 2:38.

[5] Presbyterians required their preachers to be trained in a recognized theological school, but due to a lack of educated clergy, members did not receive adequate spiritual guidance.

This sect, therefore, did not prosper as did the Methodists and Baptists (Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision, 58-59).

[6] The Methodist faith was the fastest growing religious society in early America. Through an ingenious system of preaching via organized circuits, the faith prospered as ministers regularly saw to the spiritual edification and needs of rural communities (Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision, 57).

[7] The Baptists were the first major convert faith in America, “the first religion to grow primarily by converting unchurched Americans rather than by immigration… These Protestants solved the problem of a shortage of ministers by not requiring their elders to be college graduates, but ordained many men who claimed an inward call to preach… Preaching was an avocation rather than a profession” (Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision, 56).

[8] See Isaiah 24:5.

[9] In the early nineteenth century, those who were striving to find the original gospel preached by Jesus in the scriptures were referred to as “seekers.” Lucy Mack Smith (mother of the Prophet Joseph), like Parley, was a seeker, and her search for the true religion was accelerated when she nearly died of consumption (tuberculosis). Said she, “I covenanted with God that if he would let me live, I would endeavor to get that religion that would enable me to serve him right, whether it was in the Bible or wherever it might be found, even if it was to be obtained from heaven by prayer and faith… I went from place to place to seek information or find, if possible, some congenial spirit who might enter into my feelings and sympathize with me.” Lucy went to one meeting where her hopes were high. “I went in expectation of obtaining that which alone could satisfy my soul – the bread of eternal life. When the minister commenced, I fixed my mind with breathless attention upon the spirit and matter of the discourse, but all was emptiness, vanity, vexation of spirit, and fell upon my heart like the chill, untimely blast upon the starting ear ripening in a summer sun. It did not fill the aching void within nor satisfy the craving hunger of my soul. I was almost in total despair, and with a grieved and troubled spirit I returned home, saying in my heart, there is not on earth the religion which I seek. I must again turn to my Bible, take Jesus and his dis­ciples for an example” (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 48-50).

[10] See Acts 2:37-41; 8:12; 16:13-15.

[11] See Matthew 3:5-6.

[12] See Acts 8:5-17.

[13] See Acts 10:34-48.

[14] See Acts 19:1-7.

[15] See Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13.

[16] See Romans 6:1-9.

[17] See Acts 8:26-39.

[18] See Acts 9:1-13.

[19] See Acts 16:25-34.

[20] This was likely in the spring or summer of 1825.

[21] Mark 16:17.